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Japanese Segregation in San Francisco Lesson Plan

Central Historical Questions:

Why did Teddy Roosevelt oppose the segregation of San Franciscos public schools?
Copies Japanese Segregation Documents A-E
Copies Japanese Segregation Graphic Organizer
Copies Japanese Segregation Timeline
Plan of Instruction:
1. Introduction: As we have learned, historians often use documents to make
inferences about what life was like at a particular place and time to understand
historical context. Historical documents often contain many clues about the major
issues, conflicts, beliefs, customs, and prejudices of people at a certain historical
Today we are going to make some inferences about life in the United States and
California by exploring a strange incident that happened in San Francisco in
1906 and President Theodore Roosevelts reaction to it.
A few months after the earthquake of 1906, the San Francisco Board of
Education decided to segregate Japanese students and force them to go to the
Chinese school. This created a major crisis. President Roosevelt became
involved and tried to get the Board of Education to change its decision.
We are going to examine this event by reading some of President Roosevelts
letters and speeches and analyzing a political cartoon.
Your main goal is to answer the question: Why did Roosevelt intervene in the
Japanese student segregation crisis?
Another goal is to identify how these documents reflect what you might already
know about this historical period and how they might help you learn more about
the historical context of the time.
2. As a class, read Document A and fill out Graphic Organizer.
Discussion to follow reading of Documents A:

Based on just Document A, why do you think Teddy Roosevelt intervened

in the San Francisco law?
Do you think he cared about the civil rights of Japanese?
What does this document tell you about the United States in 1906?

Japanese Segregation in San Francisco


How does it relate to what you might have already known about this time
and place in history?

Hand out Documents B, C, D, E.

Have students complete Graphic Organizer for those documents in small groups.

5. Discussion Questions:

Based on all the documents, why do you think Teddy Roosevelt

intervened in the San Francisco law?
Do you think he cared about the civil rights of Japanese?
What can you infer about the United States and California in 1906-07 from
these documents? Some possible student answers:
o Asian Americans experienced discrimination, particularly on the
West Coast;
o America was an increasingly diverse nation at this time;
o Japanese were used as labor in Hawaii;
o the United States was becoming an international power with
interests in Asia.

6. Hand out Japanese Segregation Timeline. Read through with students.

Identify, with students, all the contextual issues that they were able to infer from the
Emphasize how reading contextually not only means bringing background
knowledge to the documents, it also means learning about the historical context from
the documents.
Theodore Roosevelt, Annual message to Congress, December 4, 1906.
Do Not Embarrass the Administration, Harpers Weekly, November 10, 1906.
Theodore Roosevelt, Letter to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor, Victor Metcalf, November
27, 1906.
Roger Daniels, The Politics of Prejudice: The Anti-Japanese Movement in California and the
Struggle for Japanese Exclusion, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962), 35.
Copyright 2009, Avishag Reisman and Bradley Fogo.

Japanese Segregation in San Francisco

Document A: Roosevelt Public Speech (Modified)

It is unwise to depart from the old American tradition and to discriminate for
or against any man who desired to come here as a citizen. We cannot
afford to consider whether he is Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Gentile;
whether he is Englishman or Irishman, Frenchman or German, Japanese,
Italian, Scandinavian, Slav, or Magyar.
The class of Chinese laborers are undesirable immigrants to this country,
because of their numbers, the low wages for which they work, and their low
standard of living.
Source: Public speech by Roosevelt, December 1905.

Document B: Roosevelt Letter to Friend (Modified)

The California Legislature has the right to protest against the immigration of
Japanese laborers. Their cheapness and clannishness make them a
challenge to our laboring class, and you may not know that they have
begun to present a serious problem in Hawaiiall the more serious
because they keep entirely to themselves. Furthermore, I understand that
the Japanese themselves do not permit any foreigners to own land in
Japan. . . .
I would not have objected at all to the California Legislature passing a
resolution, courteous and proper in its terms, which would really have
achieved their goal. But I do object to, and feel humiliated by, the foolish
offensiveness of the resolution they passed.
Source: Letter from Roosevelt to a friend on May 6, 1905, in which he criticizes the
California Legislatures recent move to restrict immigration from Japan.

Japanese Segregation in San Francisco

Document C: Roosevelt to Congress (Modified)

Here and there a most unworthy feeling has manifested itself toward the
Japanese [such as] shutting them out of the common schools of San
Francisco [and] mutterings against them in one or two other places,
because of their efficiency as workers. To shut them out from the public
schools is a wicked absurdity.
Its absurd that the mob of a single city may at any time perform acts of
lawless violence that would plunge us into war. A city should not be
allowed to commit a crime against a friendly nation.
Source: Roosevelts annual message to Congress, December 4, 1906.

Document D: Roosevelt Letter to Secretary Metcalf (Modified)

My Dear Secretary Metcalf:
I had a talk with the Japanese Ambassador and told him that in my
judgment the only way to prevent constant friction between the United
States and Japan was to keep the movement of the citizens of each
country into the other as restricted as possible to students, travelers,
business men and the like. It was necessary that no Japanese laboring
menthat is, of the coolie classcome into the United States.
The Ambassador agreed with this view and said that he had always been
against Japanese coolies going to America or Hawaii. Of course, San
Franciscos action will make it difficult for most Japanese to agree with this
view. But I hope my message will smooth over their feelings.
Sincerely yours,
Theodore Roosevelt
Coolie- derogatory term for unskilled Asian labor
Source: Letter from Roosevelt to Secretary Metcalf, who went to San Francisco to
investigate the Japanese segregation crisis, November 27, 1906.
Japanese Segregation in San Francisco

Document E: Political Cartoon

Source: This cartoon was published in Harpers Weekly, a New York-based magazine,
in November 1906. It shows Secretary Metcalf speaking to a young schoolboy, who
represents San Francisco.

Japanese Segregation in San Francisco

San Francisco Japanese Segregation Crisis Timeline


Chinese Exclusion Act prohibits Chinese immigration (in one

year, Chinese immigration drops from 40,000 to 23).


Japanese government allows Japanese workers to emigrate

to Hawaii to work on sugar plantations.


Approximately 2,038 Japanese in the United States.


President Roosevelt declares victory in the Philippines.


President Roosevelt signs treaty with Panama to begin

construction of the Panama Canal.


Russo-Japanese War between Russia and Japan. Japan

surprisingly defeats Russia and establishes itself as a
military power. President Roosevelt mediates the treaty
and wins a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in 1906.

May 1905

Anti-Asiatic League formed in San Francisco. Supported by

67 labor unions. Pushes for legislation to exclude Japanese,
Koreans, Chinese.

April 1906

San Francisco earthquake destroys 29 out of 72 school


Oct. 11, 1906 San Francisco Board of Education passes a law forcing
Japanese students to attend the Chinese school. Japan
angers when it hears of the law.
Oct. 26, 1906 President Roosevelt publicly opposes the San Francisco

President Roosevelt signs Gentlemens Agreement in

which Japan agrees to restrict the immigration of Japanese
workers to the United States. In return, San Francisco
reverses law and allows Japanese into the public schools.

Japanese Segregation in San Francisco